March 11, 2019

Michael Culbert recognized for over 35 years of ethical leadership with 2019 Distinguished Business Leader Award

Exceptional entrepreneur built a culture at Progress Energy that established its place in the energy sector

“Ethical leadership starts with the tone from the top,” says Michael Culbert, the 2019 recipient of the Distinguished Business Leader Award. Leadership is all about creating an environment where people are treated as equals, partners are offered respect, and everyone feels a part of creating solutions and a sense of community. It builds a positive and enduring culture.

Culbert is very familiar with being in the top spot. He served as president and CEO of Petronas Energy Canada Ltd., formerly Progress Energy Canada Ltd., from 2004 through to 2016. The journey with Progress Energy started in 2001 when Culbert and his two partners started off with 10 people and a focus on natural gas. The plan was to find an energy play that would be sustainable from startup through mid-size venture to potentially a multinational.

As he says, “With the commercialization of the Montney formation, that is a plan that came together very well.”

The company’s asset value moved from $60 million to $6 billion from 2001 to 2012 when the company was purchased by Petroliam Nasional Berhad or Petronas.

“Petronas very specifically wanted Progress’s positive culture and place in the Canadian Energy Sector to be recognized and to continue,” says Culbert of the environment he helped nurture from the early days at Progress Energy.

“It is a great honour to be selected as the 2019 Distinguished Business Leader,” says Culbert. “With today’s bombardment of 24-hour news, the need for encouragement and acknowledgement of ethical leadership may never have been more important.”

Focusing on relationships to move industry forward

“Leaders look forward and seize opportunity. Ethical leaders do this while developing strong relationships along the way,” says Dr. Jim Dewald, dean of the Haskayne School of Business. “Michael Culbert is an exceptional leader who has moved the energy industry forward while developing relationships with Indigenous communities, regulatory bodies and at the political level. He is an outstanding selection as this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Business Leader Award.”

The award has been presented to outstanding ethical leaders in the Calgary community since 1993. It is co-presented by the Haskayne School of Business and the Calgary Chamber, along with this year’s Gala Partner, Calgary Foundation. Culbert will be honoured as the 27th recipient of the award at a gala evening June 19, 2019.

“To create long-standing trust, business leaders must ensure integrity, morality and ethics are baked into every transaction they have with a client, a stakeholder, a colleague or an employee,” says Sandip Lalli, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber. “Throughout his career Michael has reached the highest level of corporate leadership by exhibiting these qualities every day. He is a tireless advocate for the city, for community and a very deserved recipient of the 2019 Distinguished Business Leader Award.”

Deep roots in Alberta energy sector influence ethics

The lessons on leadership and the energy industry started early, with Culbert growing up in Calgary and spending time in Turner Valley and Black Diamond with his grandparents. Culbert is the fourth generation to work in the energy industry.

“My grandparents were small business proprietors; you really lived by your reputation,” says Culbert. “Growing up you really saw that sense of community and how in small towns it is all about your reputation. Calgary is no different.

“Even in my early career I could see the difference in an organization that had that strong ethical leadership,” says Culbert of his Home Oil experience, joining in late 1979, three years before Dick Haskayne became the president and CEO of the organization. Culbert continued on at Home Oil until 1995, crediting these years for giving him the well-rounded business background that would enable his success at Encal Energy Ltd. where he served as vice-president of marketing and business development from 1995 to 2001. His time at Encal Energy Ltd. paved the way for the incredible success of Progress Energy.

Setting his entrepreneurial focus on community development

Culbert’s wife, Heather, started off the family commitment to community development when she left her senior executive position at Enerplus and became actively involved in the not-for-profit community in Calgary, with a particular focus on youth initiatives and cancer support.

A highlight of the many programs they support is the United Way’s All in for Youth program that assists vulnerable youth to complete their high school studies. He shared that the program appealed to him from an entrepreneurial perspective because the United Way was looking for seed capital that could get a pilot program going, and then leverage other initiatives to allow efficient expansion to other schools in the city.

His recent involvement as a fellow with the new energy stream in the Creative Destruction Lab Rockies at the Haskayne School of Business is another entrepreneurial take on community development. The program focuses on science-based ventures within the energy industry that are looking to scale. As a fellow, Culbert brings his invaluable 35 years of experience in the industry to these new ventures, allowing them to benefit from his deep connections.

Celebrating success and a commitment to leading the way

Culbert will be honoured at a June 19 gala at the Hyatt Regency Calgary. He will share his perspectives on leadership, ethics and the energy industry, including four key priorities that have served him well in his career.

“Be honest and be able to hold your head high,” he says. “Be proud of decisions you have made and be proud of the company’s decisions.”